The Whale of Grief

Grief is hell.

If Hell is the absence of God, then grief is the absence of those we love.

Grief is hell on earth.

For many of us it is a weight that, hard as we try, we can never quite move from our hearts. We are given great volumes of advice on how to do it, how to move on, how to move forward, and how to let go but the fact is that for many there is no ‘moving on’. No ‘letting go’. No ‘getting over it’. There’s just a series of tomorrows that lead into a life you had never fully comprehended before. And we go on. We do. We will. How we do it though is another matter. Like all difficult things we do it moment by moment, day by day, and it’s a journey we take alone. Not because others refuse to be there for us, to comfort us, and to listen to us, but because grief is a deeply personal thing that connects to how you were connected to that which was lost.

When we lose a person it’s like a bridge we have travelled every day of our lives has suddenly disappeared and we have to find a way across a great chasm without that bridge any longer. What was on the other side of that bridge remains, the memories and love, but how we get there, and how we get around the chasm to get there becomes a daily problem that never seems to have one clear solution.




Grief is messy though and it is drawn out and for our culture it is a little more intimate than most of us are comfortable with. We’ll see the social media post and give our condolences, and then the person will talk about it again and we’ll repeat, then we’ll like photos of those they have lost if they were a person or pet, but as the process gets drawn out we start to check out. Not because we don’t care but because we don’t know what to say anymore. We’re out of meaningful words and we can’t always be there to be the shoulder or arms that are often needed. It helps to post about the loss because it’s getting that poison out of you but the way much of social media works now is that it’s not so much a platform, or soapbox, as an arena, or a forum, and we can’t just make statements, we have to make pronouncements that can be commented on and approved of in some way. And that’s all well and good but sometimes you want to just say – I Hurt – and not have to deal with people trying to comfort you or help or even patronize you. Sometimes you need that scream therapy, even in a virtual world, because you need to feel as if your pain matters, and holding it in doesn’t allow you to do anything but confront it, not expel it. And yeah, it’s not pretty to watch people go through grief, and it’s not easy, but we tend to like our social media and social interactions very shallow and very reserved. Presidential Candidate Howard Dean was all but politically ruined when he got too exuberant during an election stop many years ago. I am sure there were other things that betrayed him but that was the symbol of his downfall – a man triumphantly shouting at a rally, a thing that soured people to him as a candidate.

We like nice, neat interactions that we can pop into and out of with little stress. Our lives have all become so complicated, many times needlessly so, that we work harder than we ought to make it appear as if we lead this exciting, happy life that other people should envy. None of us have messy homes, or messy relationships, or messy lives. We are neat, and tidy, and exciting but not showy as we don’t want to appear that we’re bragging. We want to be the pretty photos of plastic food that never rots or gets old, not the leftovers that you sometimes settle with because life isn’t always about going out for take-out.

When you look at a year like 2016, where it feels as if we lost so many beloved celebrities, you start to see why there is so much of an outpouring for these lost people. It is genuine, to be sure, because these people impact our lives with their work, be it writing, or music, or acting, or art, or filmmaking, or whatever they did. Something they did touched our lives and impacted us and their loss affects us. We felt connected to their work and losing them feels like we lose a part of ourselves in a way. It’s normal. It’s OK. Part of the grieving we do for the loss of celebrities is grieving for ourselves. We can mask our pain in the pain of millions of other people who seem to be going through the same loss as we are. This allows us to let out our anguish in a way that is visible but not as seemingly messy and personal as it is when we lose something close to us. You can say – it’s terrible that Person X died – and others will understand and you can share your grief like a cigarette in the rain, the two of you connected by the bridge of this person you probably never knew beyond their work. It’s easier to publicly grieve someone that everyone knew, so we can get that connected grieving, when we’re so alone when we grieve otherwise.

Oh but grief is ugly.

It is messy.

And we hate it.

We hate the dying and the dead because we don’t want complicated and cluttered lives.

We don’t want cluttered social media feeds where people are sending their thoughts and prayers.

We don’t want to sit through post after post after post about someone and how they affected the lives of people. We want to acknowledge that passing and move on. Not necessarily because we have moved on but because we don’t want the messiness of this grieving. And there are those that take joy in their public grief for the famous, touting how they have lost the person that made their lives mean something and trying to make it about themselves. It’s another cry for attention. Grieving has become like baby pictures or cat videos – a white noise on social media that we want to see through so we can get to the opinions that really matter – our own.

Because it is about us.



And that makes sense because we can only live this world through this body, through this mind, and through these senses. We can empathically appreciate other views and lives but we live our own. We are our own god and devil – king and subject. It isn’t that we’re awful people but watching people grieve makes us re-live our own grief and pain and we don’t want that. So we make memes about the famous dead. And we make jokes. And we dress it all up as coping when it’s not, it’s just masked meanness, something our culture has gotten much too good at. Polite cruelty. We hate the messy things – love, pain, anger, hurt – and we cling to the cleaner things – hate, rage, bliss, shock. We tire of hearing about the famous dead and because we are tired of it people must stop their public grieving.

Because grieving is ugly.

And messy.

And grief is hell on earth.

But through all of this we are losing the biggest loss of all – ourselves, something we should all openly grieve.

We are becoming so hardened, so cold, and so calculated in how we present ourselves that genuineness is becoming a true rarity. Someone like Donald Trump comes along and posts everything he thinks to his social media in a calculated attempt to garner interest, sympathy, and even outrage, just to keep his brand going, and people call it genuine. They call it honest. But if someone posts their pain publicly they are weak, they are pathetic, and they wallowing. We prefer to read the nastiness and not the pain. We want the photos of food and not the missives on missing someone. We want the outraged posts and not the thoughtful missives. It is easier to point out flaws in others than to deal with the ones in ourselves.

But if we started grieving all we have lost we would never stop and we would flood the world with our tears and only our whales of grief would survive.

We have made gods of cruelty and callousness and if those be our gods then they are surely dead.

So in the end we are left alone, with our grief, the weight that never moves.

So we move forward.

Step by step.

Moment by moment.

Day by day.

Finding ways to cope.

Finding paths to get around that chasm.

And hoping for those moments when we can show our true hearts to the world and not have them be devoured.


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